Summer is the Season for Parks, and Park Renewal
From the Nest, Issue 7
by Jason Allen
It’s the season for park renewal. Summer is in full swing and it feels like many of the parks in Ward 1 are getting some sprucing up. Whether it’s the new playground structures in Victoria or Beulah Parks, or major amenities like the new skate facility in Alexander Park, there is plenty of tweaking and improving being proposed.
One park, however, is going to be undergoing such a complete overhaul that it will be rolled out over three phases that may take until the end of the decade.
HAAA, or the Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Park, is a storied outdoor green space in Kirkendall, nestled in the crook of Charlton Avenue West and Queen Street South. It has a rich history, from its original use as a cricket grounds in the late 1800s, to the home of the Hamilton Tigers rugby team (who would later merge with the Wildcats to become the Tiger Cats) where seven grey cups were played from 1910 to 1935.
More recently, it has been a space where neighbours from across the Kirkendall and Durand neighbourhoods come to skate in the winter, and in the summer enjoy the shade, running track, playground, basketball courts and splashpad.
But for those who use the park regularly, we know that some of the park doesn’t quite work. The splashpad is the oldest (and frankly most pathetic) in the city. The basketball area isn’t a court at all, but two side by side nets, and the track floods so badly every spring it’s basically unusable.
It is more than time for a refresh.
As a reboot to the aborted process from 2018 which dissolved in acrimony from the neighbourhood prior to that fall’s municipal election, the current process has been underway since late 2020. The 2018 process had allegedly been started without the knowledge of then Councillor Aidan Johnson who was caught off guard by the intensity of the pushback about how the process was being run, and whether the park really needed revisioning in the first place.
In February of this year there were two virtual public information sessions, or PICs, where residents were told of the history of the park, the need for renewal and encouraged to think big; or as big as possible, seeing as how at the time there was no budget assigned to the project.
The process was to continue to unfold with a high-level design document in May, followed by detailed designs in September and hopefully construction to be starting in Spring 2022.
The two PICs were accompanied by an online mapping tool where participants could drop pins on a map of the park and suggest features they wanted, along with a submission page on the Engage Hamilton platform where they could make various requests.
Along with the broader consultation, smaller engagement exercises were done by the youth of Woodcraft Canada, an environmental education group for youth based in Kirkendall, and by Lyonsgate Montessori School located on Locke Street.
As work was being done behind the scenes on the design, suddenly the Province and federal government rode to the City’s financial rescue, pledging over $6 million to a number of projects in Hamilton, including the HAAA renewal. Things were now firmly on track for the renewal getting underway soon.
On June 17 and 19 the City held the second PIC and introduced the high-level design. Two options were presented, with option A being arguably more child focused with expanded play areas, a skate dot, climbing boulders and an enlarged splash pad. Option B had desirable features such as a gazebo and plaza area and appeared to be more focused on the needs of older users.
One piece of feedback the designers say they heard clearly was the lack of amenities for youth aged 12-17. That was one of the findings of the Woodcraft Canada group in their presentation to the Councillor and design team. The youth from that process explained that the playground was geared toward kids under 12, and tweens and young teens were generally unable to compete for space on the basketball courts and fields which were full of older teens and adults.
This group advocated strongly for amenities that met the needs of middle school aged youth, and these amenities appear prominently in option A.
Once the public have expressed their preference for either option and its amenities, staff will go back and create a final option that blends the most demanded of the features of each option, and takes into account things like maintenance, safety and work schedules.
At this point the plan is to return to the community with a detailed design of that blended option in September. After that plan is released, there will be a more extensive consultation with youth and children about the details of the play structures.
Once the design and playground amenities have been finalized, construction will begin, hopefully in Spring of 2022. Because the needs of the park and the proposed changes are so extensive, the construction is proposed to take place in three phases. This may mean it could continue to the end of the 2020s, once you account for the usual delays.
The process thus far has been a dramatic improvement over the debacle in 2018. In that process a poorly advertised PIC was held at a time most parents couldn’t attend, and the room was stacked with seniors and local NIMBYs who wanted to replace the basketball court with a parking lot. The results, if that process had been continued, would likely have been disastrous.
The renewed process does feature some consultation with the park’s main user groups – children and youth – but that outreach is largely focused on helping decide the amenities of the playground structure specifically as opposed to determining the make up of the park as a whole.
This is why groups like Woodcraft Canada stepped up and did their own youth consultations, which were warmly welcomed by the Councillor and the project manager.
The process raises an interesting point about how the City defines “stakeholders” when it comes to public consultation, and how the City continues to undervalue the opinion of young people when consulting on issues that directly affect them. Ward 1 appears to embrace this concept, but it will remain to be seen if the City adopts the principle of youth engagement more widely.
The Ward 1 consultation also stands in stark contrast to the process in Ward 2, where residents have experienced constant delays and lack of communication from their councillor. The failure of the initial process in Ward 1, along with a councillor who understands the importance of genuine consultation, appears to be making all the difference.
In the end, the HAAA consultation appears to be robust, and the project manager and staff really do appear to have the best interests of residents at heart. It will be exciting to see what the results of the project look like once they are complete.